I hear many conversations about feminism start with "I'm not a feminist, but…" followed by a wildly reasonable remark or comment about gender equality -- and usually something relatively "feminist" in nature. Feminism, by definition, is simply the advocacy for women's rights and equality to men. Yet, many women cringe and are afraid of calling themselves the ugly F-word: a feminist.
According to a 2013 HuffPost/YouGov poll, “only one-fifth of Americans identify as feminists.” That is 20 percent of the American population who explicitly claim the term, while 63 percent describe themselves as being neither pro nor anti-feminist. When the poll asked responders if men and women should be "social, political and economic" equals, about 83 percent agreed.
Men and women should be granted the same rights and opportunities; this is what feminism means. Yet, we still have people shying away from using the term "feminist" because of the negative connotations that are associated with it. So where is the disconnect? Who wants to be associated with such a "negative” word? It's way easier to say you're not a feminist and still support gender equality rather than use a word that stirs up so much controversy.
The extreme challenge of the ideas feminism represents is threatening to women who just want to be left alone; to all women who believe they can hide from feminist issues by not being feminists, this just creates a bigger divide. It is easier to rest in silence, because silence acts as neutrality, and neutrality is safety.
The term "feminazi" is used by people who view feminists as "angry, frumpy and man-hating lesbians." These images portray feminists as being hysterical and incompetent, which ignores and discredits the true meaning of feminism. Women (and men) are afraid to identify with this crowd either because they feel embarrassed for daring to demand gender equality or to support a movement that makes people feel ashamed for being ignorant.
So why call yourself a feminist? If I don't hate men, enjoy having male friends and view my boyfriend as my equal, what's the point of me even saying I support feminism? Because feminism is not about creating divisions. Feminism at its core is about offering the same opportunities to all people; it emphasizes the right for all people to choose how to live their lives and be flexible about these choices.
This fear of being called a "feminist" really rests in the assumed social consequences and implications of being called one. It is difficult to undertake the personal accountability required to trace out one's own position in the multiple systems of domination and oppression.